What happened in world of Yorkshire business during 2023: January to March

Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s tenures as Prime Minister and Chancellor may have ended abruptly a few months before but Yorkshire businesses were still coming to terms with the fallout from their disastrous “Mini-Budget” as 2023 began.

New research from the West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce at the start of the year found many local businesses had put investment plans on hold in the final part of 2022 as a consequence of factors including inflation, recruitment challenges and the value of sterling.

But the study also found “cautious optimism” that the situation would improve as 2023 progressed.

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Separate research by EY-Parthenon found profit warnings issued by listed companies based in Yorkshire more than doubled in 2022 at a time of “significant economic and geopolitical headwinds”. It said that the number of profit warnings in the region increased from 12 in 2021 to 30 last year.

Richard Fearon, chief executive of the Leeds Building Society, as the organisation posted record results. Picture: James HardistyRichard Fearon, chief executive of the Leeds Building Society, as the organisation posted record results. Picture: James Hardisty
Richard Fearon, chief executive of the Leeds Building Society, as the organisation posted record results. Picture: James Hardisty

However, Christmas retail sales figures showed a 6.9 per cent increase for December 2022 according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor – well above the 2.1 per cent figure of December 2021 but substantially affected by increased costs making purchases more expensive.

Meanwhile, the opening month of the year saw the National Infrastructure Commission launch a new office in Leeds. The Government’s independent advisory body for infrastructure policy took space in One Embankment, the same office building being used as the headquarters of the UK Infrastructure Bank.

A small number of commission staff started work from the new office with immediate effect, with the intention that around 40 per cent of the commission’s 45-strong team of staff will be based there in future.

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January also saw the sad news of the death of PR expert Di Burton, who founded Harrogate-based Cicada Communications, at the age of 68. A tribute from her company said: “If you met Di, you were unlikely to forget her. Assertive and inquisitive by nature, her infectious personality always left a lasting impression.”

In February, there was controversy as Shell and BP recorded vast profits following runaway oil and gas prices caused by the war in Ukraine.

The latter firm also caused anger by lowering its target for cutting emissions this decade. It had previously promised to make a cut of up to 40 per cent but instead said it was now targeting a reduction of up to 30 per cent by 2030.

Leeds-headquarted firm Tile Giant went into administration in February, with 13 stores across the country closed with immediate effect and more than 40 staff made redundant. However, administrators secured two deals to save more than 300 jobs with the business.

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There was also a new owner for a famous Yorkshire hotel. Aprirose, real estate investment company, sold The Queens Hotel in Leeds to Pandox, which is a major owner of hotel properties in Northern Europe.

The hotel has been in the heart of Leeds since 1937 and over the decades has welcomed illustrious guests including Laurel and Hardy, Grace Kelly and Nelson Mandela.

February also saw Leeds Building Society post record £220m profits after a decision to withdraw from lending on second home purchases to help more people onto the housing ladder paid off. The society recorded a 35 per cent rise in profits despite facing “extremely volatile conditions” which have contributed to it being the hardest time for people to afford a home since the organisation was founded in 1875.

Chief executive Richard Fearon told The Yorkshire Post: “That is a pretty sad reflection of decades of inaction to tackle the housing crisis. We’re really keen to play our part in helping first-time buyers in almost unprecedentedly difficult time.”

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In March, Yorkshire Building Society reported similarly-strong results, with a statutory profit before tax of £502.5m. It came despite the organisation being forced to suspend mortgage deals for two weeks in the aftermath of the Mini-Budget.

The same month also saw the beginning of dramatic developments for Sheffield-based data company WANdisco which were to play out throughout 2023.

After the company announced in March 6 it was exploring a US listing of its shares, three days later share trading was suspended after the firm revealed that “significant, sophisticated and potentially fraudulent irregularities with regard to received purchase orders and related revenue and bookings, as represented by one senior sales employee, have been discovered”.

Bradford-based Safestyle UK, which subsequently was to dramatically go out of business in late 2023, admitted in March that 2022 had been a “challenging year” for the business following the fallout from the Mini-Budget and a cyber attack on the business. But it expressed hopes for the future and said a recent TV advertising campaign featuring former England goalkeeper David Seaman had boosted brand awareness.

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